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A Pillar of Smoke

September 11, 2007

The phone rang.

My wife picked up; it was her brother calling from Japan. It was early, about 7AM, and I was still quite groggy. For some reason she got out of bed and continued her conversation in the living room. I dozed until the alarm clock went off. I’ll never forget that moment. It was set to NPR- I was an NPR junkie of serveral years- and the sonorous tones of one of it’s familier voices said

“… an attack on the Pentagon…”

My feet hit the floor instantly.

I was in the the living room. The TV was on of course. My wife was watching, I think, or maybe still talking to her brother. I remember thinking “I wonder why she didn’t wake me up?”- but then I knew. We watched the smoke on TV in a stupor. We must have said something, but I don’t remember what.

I don’t remember as much as I’d like for a moment like that. Maybe it’s better to forget. A little forgetting eases the pain in traumatic times. The trade-off is those times shape you and the scary thing is you’re not even aware of the transformation. You’re just trying to find a way to survive.

So much smoke.

And the immensity of it, still hard to fathom even six years later.

I’d stood on top of one of those towers just a few years before. It was a muggy hot August day, and we were not allowed to linger long on the exposed roof- there was fear an electrical storm was coming, and it was not safe to remain there. You were so high up in the air on top of the World Trade Center. It was like being in a plane. You could see the whole city stretched before you. The statue of liberty was a speck. The Empire State Building was far away in the distance. The other tower stood beside you, the only thing that rose to your level. It was so straight, so strong, so bright white in the sun up there.

Then I had an idea: grab the metal railing. Everybody laughed as my hair stood straight on end. There was literally electricity in the air. My friend Jimmy and I quickly took pictures of each other and then we had to go down.

So I’m watching TV and everything’s confused. No one knows what’s going on. I’m confused. At some point I realized, with some violence to the mind, that one of the towers had collapsed. You’d think that would have been obvious. I’m sure I must have seen the second tower fall as it happened, but I don’t remember it. Perphaps all the replays robbed my memory of the actual moment. More likely, my mind was still trying to cope with the fact that the tower I had believed to still be there, the edifice that had raised me to that god-like view so sturdily, was in fact a pillar of smoke.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Timmy C permalink
    September 11, 2007 5:49 pm

    By the way, I never mentioned it, but my aunt Janice – who was really more like a second mom to my brother and I was there in the plaza 6 years ago.

    She was in her late 60’s and had moved to NY to be near her grandson…She had survived a very nearly life ending bout with cancer about 8 years earlier, that had resulted in many painful surgeries and treatments, but had made it through with flying colors.

    When the first building began to fall everyone on the ground nearby scattered as did she, but Janice didn’t make it far enough fast enough and she was hit by a reasonably large piece of the falling tower, and engulfed in the cloud of debris.

    She was unconscious for days, very near death, and survived with some difficult vision problems in one eye…but like with her cancer before, she is for whatever reason, a survivor.

    So on a day of mourning the losses in the Trade Center and in the Pentagon, and in the planes…I have a more personal mourning of my aunt Janice, who had already paid so many other prices in life, and really deserves today to be able to see.

    – Timmy

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